It was cold, it was dark and it was occasionally raining the sort of thin greasy rain that soaks straight through your clothes. I was making my way to one of the Docklands Light Railway stations for a ‘Male – collapsed, caller not willing to approach patient’. I’d been to this station in the last week for a hoax call and I wasn’t sure if this was a repeat performance.
At the bottom of the stairs just sheltered from the rain was a young man in his twenties, dirty, dressed in filthy clothes and curled up next to a plastic bag. Standing over him was another man, this one dressed in a suit, he was looking a bit concerned.
The London borough of Tower Hamlets has both the richest, and the poorest population in London
“He’s just laying there, not talking”, the smartly dressed man said, “I didn’t really know what to do…”.
I let him know that I’d take care of the patient, and that he had done the right thing and could go home.
It was just me and the patient. Given the way he looked it was a reasonable assumption that he was homeless. If he was homeless then there was a reasonable assumption that he was drunk and given that he was in such a public place there was a chance that there was something physically wrong with him.
I tried to wake him up – he was holding his eyes closed when I tried to open them, so I knew that he wasn’t really unconscious.
“Look mate”, I said, “If you don’t open your eyes, I’ll have to check your blood sugar, which means poking a needle into your finger. If you open your eyes then I won’t have to do that”.
So I checked his blood sugar along with the rest of his vital signs, everything was fine.
I crouched down opposite him.
“Look, you can open your eyes and talk to me you know – we’ll still take you to hospital. To be honest, I can’t blame you, an A&E waiting room has got to be an option on a crappy night like this”.
Some commuters walked between us, they didn’t look at us. I looked in his plastic bag, there was a sociology textbook.
“Sociology? I could never enjoy reading that sort of thing”.
He opened his eyes, “S’all right”.
Excellent. He was talking to me, which meant that the paranoid voice in the back of my head telling me that he might be seriously ill could shut up. It’s something that always worries me – that despite my experience I’d miss something serious on a drunk or homeless guy.
We had a little chat while I was waiting for the ambulance to arrive. He’d been a rough sleeper for two years, he admitted to drinking too much. He seemed like an alright kind of person.
“Bloody freezing tonight”, I said to him, “I reckon the hospital has got to be a fair bit warmer and drier tonight”.
“I don’t want to go to hospital”, he said back to me.
I was surprised, “Are you sure mate? It’s no skin off my nose if we take you in”.
“Yeah, I’m sure. I’ve just had too much to drink”. He mentioned a hostel nearby, “Which way is it from here?”
So I pointed him in the direction of the hostel and he wandered off down the road.
I’ve got to admit that I felt sorry for him – I didn’t know why he was homeless, and I’m not a strong believer that all homeless people are victims, but because I’d sat and spoke to him, because he hadn’t tried to hit me and because he seemed like a reasonable person I felt some sympathy for him. He must have made some sort of impression on me as I can still remember the job six weeks after it happened.
Maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age.